Heartland vs. the Coasts: The Myths

Here’s an interesting item: True Blue Americans by Paul Krugman, originally published 05/07/02 in the N.Y. Times and reprinted by the Common Dreams site.


Here’s a quote: “You’ve heard the story many times: the denizens of the heartland, we’re told, are rugged, self-reliant, committed to family; the inhabitants of the coast are whining yuppies. Indeed, George W. Bush has declared that he visits his stage set — er, ranch — in Crawford to “stay in touch with real Americans.” (And what are those of us who live in New Jersey — chopped liver?) But neither the praise heaped on the heartland nor the denigration of the coasts has any basis in reality. I’ve done some statistical comparisons using one popular definition of the heartland: the “red states” that — in an election that pitted both coasts against the middle — voted for Mr. Bush. How do they compare with the “blue states” that voted for Al Gore?”

Yes, how do they compare? If you buy into the myth of the moral superiority of the rural American heartland, you’ll be surprised by the answer.

The conclusion he makes (for those that haven’t read the article) is that the heartland’s relatively small population is beneficiary to an astonishing degree of largess, and that they aren’t particularly morally superior to those “godless city folk”.

Of course, it is the “godless” part that makes the whole thing tricky, because although I don’t have numbers, I’d be willing to bet that one of the chief differences is the religiosity of the two groups, and there is a constant assumption in American politics and American society that religiosity is what leads to morality. The assumption of the “superiority” of the heartland probably has more to do with that than any real moral or economic reasons.

Then again, as I’m sure he’d be the first to point out, the “red state” vs. “blue state” comparison is somewhat error-prone. :wink: Still, it certainly highlights the ludicrousness of the new farm bill, and shows that U.S. business and government have no right insisting that other companies open up their markets when they’re clearly unwilling to do so themselves.

Some of the comparisons between the “heartland” and the Satanists who live on the coasts are clearly overwrought.

The farm bill, though, may not be the best indicator of hypocrisy, as it is tailored to primarily benefit large corporate agricultural enterprises rather than small family farms.

Demosthenesian, a lot of it may indeed have to do with a religious self-perception.

The “heartland” has as its origin myth “the hardy pioneering settlers of the prairies and plains” who had to live off the land, fight off bears and Indians, build log cabins with their bare hands, walk 12 miles thru snow to school, etc. etc. You combine that with a decidedly veterotestamentarian outlook in American Protestantism: Biblically, if you think about it, if the choice is between the tents of the shepherds in some craggy, inhospitable Judaean hill, and Babylon, center of learning and science in the Fertile Crescent, you KNOW which one will be held to represent virtue vs. which one vice.

Hmm. Sounds to me like the author has a chip on his shoulder for some reason. In addition, he is waging a fight in his article against a largely symbolic thing: The Heartland. The heartland is symbolic to this country the same way baseball (when we choose not to debate its problems), Mom, and apple pie are. Keep in mind, the “heartlanders” also get to wear monikers like “bible thumpers”, “red necks”, and "fly over country. Yes, when people want to use a cliche that symbolizes the heart and soul of America, they like to use “heartland”. But to think there is some national preference to the heartland states and against the coasts, I really don’t buy it.

In addition, bringing up the farm bill serves his purpose in a limited scope, but keep in mind that states like California and New York also reap their profits from the farm bill. Are there problems with the farm bill? Yes, that is openly recognized. Farm subsidies are merely easy fixes for more fundamental problems in the agricultural economy. The farm bill is a seperate issue for debate from heartland v. coasts.

Interesting article, but I value it as much as I do Enron stock.

Yes, the “red vs. blue” comparisons were really overdone by both sides after the election, especially when you consider how many states were decided by a razor-thin margin. I think that it was largely an attempt by pundits to ‘rally the troops’ on their side by taking cheap shots at those on the other end of the political spectrum.

With that said, the differences in family structures between various parts of the country is quite interesting. According to this article, "Aside from the quickie-divorce mecca of Nevada, no region of the United States has a higher divorce rate than four Bible Belt states: Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama and Oklahoma. In a country where nearly half of all marriages break up, the divorce rates in these states are about 50 percent above the national average. " My personal theory, though I don’t have much evidence to back it up, is that in socially conservative states where the state and local governments try as hard as possible to encourage marriage, young couples are more likely to rush into it without adequate thought or preparation, and are thus more likely to end up filing for divorce. I do know several couples in my home state of Kentucky who got married despite having known each other for only a few months, and in most cases, their marriage disintegrated pretty quickly.

Quite true. But for myself, I’d much rather live in Babylon!

ITR champion – good point about a possible cause of the high divorce rate in some Bible Belt states. And, in addition to young people rushing into marriage due to its high promotion in the area, consider the situation of couples facing an unplanned pregnancy. Maybe in the Bible belt, a higher percentage see marriage as their only option? But, not being really suited to each other, or not having really wanted to marry, they are at high risk of divorcing later.

See, at the time of the election, I was in Wisconsin; now, I’m in Iowa. Both states consider themselves to be in the Midwest, and both, as I’m sure you realize, were ‘blue’.

The Midwest is an interesting place. I am originally from New Jersey and – while there are differences – the more metropolitan areas in the Midwest (from larger towns and cities like Chicago, Madison, and Des Moines to smaller college towns, like Ames and Iowa City) are really very comparable to East Coast suburbia.

Politically, it’s a bit more complicated. We are more conservative, but urban and suburban areas are quite liberal (Madison being the most obvious example). Yet even the rural areas aren’t that conservative. Here in Iowa we have a Democrat as governor; Wisconsin finally lost a long-time incumbent Republican (Tommy Thompson) so that might become the case this fall there also.

Personally I see just as much a difference between northern Midwestern states like Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, and Wisconsin and southern Midwestern states like Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and so on as I do between coast and Heartland. It’s wrong to classify all non-coastal states as uniformly conservative or uniformly religious. It just isn’t so.

Unfortunately, people in the Midwest often really don’t know that the East is not one great big New York City or Washington DC – at least, no more than those on the coasts understand that a large percentage of those who live in Midwestern states don’t live on farms in the middle of nowhere. This is exploited politically by both sides. It’s unfortunate. People on the coasts are no less befitting a political say and they are no less American.

—But to think there is some national preference to the heartland states and against the coasts, I really don’t buy it.—

I guess you’ve been living in a cave for the last few decades, since this attitude is part of nearly every sanctimonious retelling of the 2000 elections, part of every conservative swipe at D.C and New York, and is a generally held opinion for much of the nation (especially IN the heartland)

—The farm bill is a seperate issue for debate from heartland v. coasts.—

I’m not sure I see why: its a perfect example of how in general, people who trumpet the moral superiority of the “heartland” and “self-reliance” and “small government” are actually the same people who get the most aid, the most tax revenue, the biggest handouts. And they ALREADY have a disproportionate control over the American political system.

My stepfather once described the relationship between coastal states and heartland states to me by holding his hands, palms facing one another, about eighteen inches apart. As he moved them toward each other, he said, “Stupider, stupider, stupider!”

Totally unfair. But it cracked me up.

Naturally, he’s from a coastal state. Then again, that coastal state is Florida. So I’m not sure who he is to talk :D.


Aside from any of the other points mentioned in this thread:


Other than sounding astonishingly cool, what exactly does this term refer to?